This seemed like an innocent enough topic for our occasional Solid 5 series. But asking for nominations from the team at Sounder Towers opened up a huge can of worms about what constitutes a nine-hole course. Should we include ‘second courses’ (the Channel Course at Burnham & Berrow, the new floodlit nine at Yas Links), or par 3 courses (the Cradle at Pinehurst, Dukes Meadow in West London), or even pitch & putts (the Pimply at Royal North Devon, or UK’s leading homemade pasture golf course RNGC).
One contributor even tried to argue for the 12-holes of Shiskine on the island of Arran – undoubtedly a brilliant golf experience, and a shoe-in for a future Solid 5 on courses only accessible by boat. In the end, we decided that only standalone nine-hole courses with at least one par four could be considered. You will no doubt find cause to dispute our criteria, or indeed to disagree with our selection below. But we can vouch for each and every one of these nine-hole golfing gems.
Royal Worlington & Newmarket
The journey to Royal Worlington takes you through flat, muddy Suffolk farmland that looks like distinctively unpromising terrain for a golf course – least of all one widely regarded as the best nine-holer in the sport. The whole course is squeezed on to a 40-acre sandy field with just a few basic features – a road, a single copse of trees and a few grassy hollows. But an ingenious routing and devilish set of greens are guaranteed to put a smile on your face – a sense of fun that continues into the bar where you can sample the club’s legendary Pink Jug: a lethal combination of lemon, ice, champagne and equal shots of Benedictine, brandy and Pimms.
Every January, the global golf business descends on Orlando for the annual PGA Show – a giant clusterfuck of overweight middle-aged men in beige chinos peddling the latest industry nonsense. Thankfully, Orlando is also home to The Winter Park Golf Course – a nine-hole municipal gem tucked away in an upmarket suburb of the city, where a round costs $20 in the week or $25 at weekends. Measuring only 2,480 yards, the course meanders around a cemetery and through the streets of the town. The last time we visited, our very own James Day managed a hole-in-one on the par 3 eighth hole to level the match, before shanking one OB on the last and shaking hands.
Situated on the far northwest tip of Scotland, Durness is a long way from anywhere. But golfers who make the journey are rewarded with a magical experience that will nourish the soul of even the most jaded and cynical among us. Stick your £25 green fee in the honesty box and enjoy a version of the game a million miles from the manicured perfection that makes so much modern golf so sterile. And if you’re going to go all that way, there are plenty of other nine-holers worth checking out too – Locharron, Ullapool and Gairloch, all of which we visited on our North Coast 500 trip in June 2022.
Bondi Golf & Diggers Club
This Australian gem nearly fell foul of our ‘no putt & putt’ rule, with just one par 4 and eight one-shotters making up a 1,470 yard par 28 layout. But what the course lacks in length it more than makes up for in location – the clifftop setting offers views of the Sydney city skyline one way and the surf rolling into the iconic beach the other. Dress however you want but go easy on the beers – the clifftop location brings a whole new meaning to the idea of what constitutes a water hazard.
Residents of Surrey enjoy arguably the most concentrated collection of great golf courses anywhere on the planet, so maybe it’s not surprising that Reigate Heath isn’t better known. But a club that features nine holes of classic heathland terrain with eighteen tees, several public roads and a windmill that’s home to a consecrated chapel deserves to be better known. The holes are routed across common land shared with dog walkers, joggers, bird watchers and horse riders – all just outside the M25 and within easy reach of central London.